Hidamari Sketch – Episode 1

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’re embarking on a new journey, as I explore the first episode of a beloved franchise that I have basically zero experience with. We’re checking out Hidamari Sketch today, and as usual, I’ll begin by laying down what I actually know about this franchise. First off, I know that it’s one of the most enduring slice of life franchises out there, both in terms of its actual number of seasons, and in terms of its ongoing acclaim and cultural relevance.

I also know that it’s one of the core shows that defined the theoretical “SHAFT aesthetic,” a loose collection of stylistic choices that frequently includes flat, abstract backgrounds, single-tone colors, rapid closeups, creative and diegetic typography, mixed media compositions, dramatic character design shifts, and that beloved head tilt. Akiyuki Shinbo is credited as head director on basically all SHAFT productions, but given Hidamari’s other director Ryoki Kamitsubo would leave the production after the first season, leaving it entirely in Shinbo’s hands, it seems fair to assume that Hidamari Sketch is one of SHAFT’s most directly Shinbo productions.

Finally, I also know that Hidamari Sketch is about art students, and that their heads are very wide. With all that established, let’s explore one of SHAFT’s most iconic and beloved productions!

Episode 1

And here’s that distinctive typography right from the start, as we’re introduced to the show through a playful pastel countdown

Man, it’s been a while since I watched a SHAFT show. This school background has no interest in evoking a sense of depth in the composition – it’s just one flat object layered over another, with no real shading of any kind. It feels proudly artificial

And of course, this character’s alarm clock is just a photorealistic alarm clock inserted into the frame

Love the geometry of this shot looking down at the girl in bed. Frequently, SHAFT productions are not attempting to create an illusion of a living space with depth, a place you could actually walk into. Instead, they are reveling in the fundamental relationships between lines and shapes across the entire composition – any sense of depth is intentionally lost in order to put all lines and colors on an equal plain

And yet, in spite of that flat stylization, the close focus on details like a foot emerging from covers only to shiver and retreat still neatly captures the experience of a cold, lazy morning

As someone who appreciates a convincing composite, looking at this bedroom comprised of CG furniture, traditionally drawn bedsheets, and photorealistic accessories is giving me anxiety

It actually sort of reminds me of a visual novels’ backgrounds, though judging by this show’s pacing of narrative beats, it’s presumably based on a 4koma manga. It’s not hard to tell when a show is based on a 4koma – if the characters’ adventures slot into two minute compartments divided by transition frames, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in 4koma land

Ooh, I like this cut of the ribbons suspended against a flat background, before we get to see their context in a full mirror shot. Embracing abstraction like this allows for some very playful storytelling

A girl with pigtails named Miya arrives

I guess the main girl is Yuno, since Miya calls her Yunocchi

Based on the OP, it seems like this show basically defaults to a superdeformed chibi style. It’s certainly an easy way to create a sense of endearing, nonthreatening characters, though I wonder how expressive they’ll be. I consider K-On! basically the gold standard for slice of life shows, so this’ll be quite a transition, to say the least

Yuno, Miyako, Hiro, and Sae. Archetype-wise, they appear to be The Mild-Mannered Protagonist, The Goofball, The Ojou, and The Smart One

These exteriors are wild. There’s something inherently soothing about this flat and rigidly geometric background style – it’s so unabashedly artificial that it feels somehow “safe,” while it’s visually interesting enough to invite a desire for exploration

It’s also an interesting way of facilitating the sense of intimacy inherent to slice of life – simplified backgrounds “fade away” easily, letting you focus on the character bonds while creating a general space of pastel warmth

Seems like Hidamari is the name of their apartment complex

Wonderful reaction shot for Yuno. These superdeformed faces are pretty good

And now we meet their teacher, who I expect to be a disaster. Writing her memories on the blackboard is a cute trick – another benefit of this show’s simplified designs

The backgrounds frequently just echo the character emotions – Miyako’s bright statement of support is surrounded by yellow, while Yuno’s anxieties are matched with a deep blue

Ahaha, this gag is great. The teacher just cheerfully saying “too bad” to Yuno asking for an extension. This show doesn’t draw out its gags, which I appreciate – the setups are quick, and the punchlines are generally just one excellent reaction shot

Oh damn, Yuno’s actual project is a collage combining drawn images, typography, and photorealism – her in-show art is a reflection of the show’s own stylistic synthesis

More interesting geometry as Yuno returns to school. This show’s preference for flat compositions without a sense of depth means that Yuno running “into the frame” means she’s actually running down a vertical canvas

I like Sensei’s squeaky shoes

Also how their faces seem to get wider when they’re more relaxed. A very funny way of conveying low tension

Hiro saved Yuno a rice ball, as befitting her presumably mom-like role in the group

I know the wide faces are a meme at this point, but they really do create a sense of coziness. It’s like the Girls’ Last Tour crew melting in the bath

Hiro and Sae seem to both actually be the group moms, commenting on the youthful enthusiasm of Yuno and Miya as they run around in the snow. Relishing unconsidered youth is a big part of slice of life dramas, but so is actively reflecting on younger days

Their conversation is refreshingly naturalistic – it proceeds from point to point in a convincingly wandering way, and each of them take moments to reflect on what the other is saying, or stumble over their words

Excellent contrast here too, as their gentle conversations are played against Yuno and Miya playing in the snow. The meaning of friendship and relaxation shift with age, and this show is celebrating both childhood and maturity at once

The use of grayscale backgrounds further emphasizes a point I made earlier – the show’s simplified backgrounds help facilitate an intimate focus on the characters

These student apartment blocks are a good venue for slice of life – they have the feeling of a cozy local neighborhood

Even though I’ve never used a kotatsu, twenty years of anime fandom has programmed me to understand that they are the ultimate form of relaxation

SHAFT’s style is able to accommodate an unusual degree of loyalty to what was presumably this story’s 4koma aesthetic; backgrounds often being reduced to single squiggly lines or dots and colors actually fits

A slice of life staple: bullying the group idiot

Hidamari Sketch’s clean, minimalist aesthetic means it makes out better than something like Haibane Renmei, but it’s still a victim of the digipaint transition era. In the distance shots, all the characters are kinda reduced to fuzzy blobs

It’s been too long since I watched a slice of life show. Hidamari is reminding me how grateful I am that anime essentially has an entire genre dedicated to the joy of eating tea and snacks with friends

It feels like the teacher bearing the brunt of a show’s more ruthless gags is something of a slice of life tradition, if this, K-On!, and Azumanga Daioh are anything to go by. It’s a pretty sensible way of partitioning the comedy, since you want the main group to be as mutually supportive as possible

Sae and Hiro make for a very charming couple

And Done

Well, that was a perfectly pleasant ride. The cast is quite charming, and it was very interesting to see how SHAFT’s stylistic quirks lend themselves to slice of life dramas in a variety of unique ways. Quite frankly, I don’t think this is really my style of slice of life – I generally tend to most like the ones that focus heavily on creating a beautiful, inviting environment, whereas Hidamari Sketch intentionally pulls away from realism or visual cohesiveness in order to present more of a dialogue-driven visual collage. But even if it’s not quite my thing, it’s always rewarding to see aesthetic choices and dramatic effects intersect in new ways, and I can certainly see the appeal of this very cozy show!

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